By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,317)
Usually the City Council issues liquor licenses that gain little media attention. Tonght was different. One of the two restaurants seeking a liquor license was once surrounded in controversy and the other applicant received a grilling from the Council for his recent past criminal record. Both applications passed, however.
Ken Macgowan recently made known his intention to reopen the Porthole on Custom House Wharf. (According to Macgowan his great grandfather bought Custom House Wharf in the 1870’s and it was an industrial site for many years; shipbuilding and repairs prior to WW 1.) At tonight’s Council meeting, he said that he’d like to open around April 1st “ish.” “We are keeping some of the retro character of the Porthole, while bringing it up to 2013 standards,” said Beth Poitras, general manager. “Lunch and dinner will be comfort food,” said Jesse Poirier, chef for the reinvented landmark spot on the waterfront. Last summer, the Porthole, became the center of controversy when it was closed down by Michelle Sturgeon, city health inspector, for rat infestation and other serious health issues. Something that should have happened years ago, according to some who frequented the popular watering hole that once catered mostly to fishermen. In more recent years, it had become a popular tourist attraction with an outside porch. The application for a liquor license passed unanimously and swiftly.
In contrast to the first application for a liquor license, Peter Verrill, Jr., eventually got what he came for, but it wasn’t without a grilling from the City Council. Verrill’s application for a liquor license for his new high-end restaurant – Outlier’s Eatery, 231 York Street – the site of the former Popeye’s Ice House. The grilling followed a recommendation by Portland Police Chief Sauschuck that Verrill’s application for a liquor license be denied based on “a history of lack of responsibility about his criminal background.” That included substance abuse, dating back to 2001 and continuing up to just several months ago – a criminal arrest that is yet to be considered in court – something of particular concern to Councilor Suslovic. “It calls into question his character. There is a pattern around substance abuse,” said Chief Sauschuck.
A turning point in his favor happened when half way through the questioning, Councilor Cheryl Leeman asked Verrill why should “we take a risk on you?” He responded: “I’ve put everything I have into this. Vision is where I excel. I’m not looking to be a millionaire. I want to create something wonderful for that neighborhood.” Verrill assured the council that he will be the restaurant’s accountant and have no supervisory role over the wait staff or bar tenders. Slowly, councilors like Jill Duson, who were prepared to vote to deny the application, came around to supporting his application – saying the Council will be watching his behavior carefully.
Mayor Brennan voted against the application saying a “license is a privilege, not a right. Verrill does not understand the seriousness of criminal threatening.” The application passed 7 – 2. Mayor Brennan and Counselor Suslovic were the two dissenting votes.
Outlier’s is expected to open on Wednesday, April 3. It’s open for dinner only, from 4 – 11 pm, and closed on Tuesdays. The menu will be mostly of seafood and steaks. (The light fixtures are hand-blown from New York City.)
“I’m VERY relieved,” said Verrill following the meeting grinning from ear-to-ear.